Takashi Miike’s latest film, First Love, is the answer to the question; what kind of film would Quentin Tarantino and Guy Ritchie make if they were the same person.
First Love centers around a select group of yakuza and Chinese mob bosses, a dirty cop, a hallucinating hooker, and an amateur boxer. The more you delve into the story written by frequent Miike collaborator Masa Nakamura, you realize this is one part, the same kind of improbable plot of the gangster films that have made Guy Ritchie famous. And one part some pulpy 50’s gangster novel.
And Miike and Nakamura pull it off with the same kind of clever execution of Ritchie but with enough of a dash of Tarantino to pull off one of the most pleasing third acts that I’ve seen in a film this year. Like Ritchie, Miike takes an amazingly eclectic cast and balances them so successfully that not one character overshadows the other in kinetic pacing that Miike plays with like a master. To his further credit, the story asks a lot of the actors and Miike’s proven eye for casting hasn’t let him down in First Love.
Masataka Kubota leads the story as Leo, the amateur boxer. And Sakurako Konishi plays the entrapped hooker, Monica. It’s these two that take the emotional weight of the story because, for all the bravado, gore, fights, and gangsters, Miike built this film around a surprisingly sweet love story. This backbone truly helps propel the story as we watch Leo training for a match that he wins easily and practically doesn’t care much to the annoyance of his stereotypical coach. The reason being?
He fights because he can, he’s not fighting for anything.
Leo doesn’t have much to live for in his life. Until Monica comes running past him. Monica, a woman literally haunted by her past. Forced into prostitution and drug addiction by the mob. Konishi plays off an arguable innocence, despite her dark surroundings. But really, it’s an honesty that Konishi radiates. She’s one of two characters in this film that doesn’t lie. Literally everyone aside from Leo and Monica has some sort of bad intention. Juxtaposed against Kubota’s performance of Leo being someone who has to learn how to connect and care about someone for the first time, it creates a genuine relationship.
On the literally opposite end of the spectrum of love and peace is Beck Rabone’s Julie. The girlfriend of the mob enforcer who was guarding Monica is an astonishingly psychotic badass that Rabone owns and is by far one of the most entertaining performances in the film. Another stand out in this massive cast is what ignites the already volatile relationships between the Chinese and Japanese, the ambition of Shota Sometani’s gangster, Kase. Sometani gets the majority of the fun in this film as Kase’s ambition is writing cheques he can’t cash.
Nothing about what is seen in this film is anything that you haven’t seen before in Miike’s previous films, First Love being film number 103 in his impressive resume. But, in the end, as Miike’s pacing and momentum builds, the blood spurts, the Ritchie-esqe improbability of the story makes First Love one of the strongest and most fun films on the festival circuit right now and well worth five out of five stars. As the action grows, the sequences are filmed sharply.
The one and truly negative thing I can say about this film is the idea that Monica is literally haunted by the ghost of her father. It’s a conception that goes back to the themes about what you do with your life is entirely up to you. But it never hits as hard as it should and plays off for some truly force laughter.
First Love is a damn entertaining two hours of memorable characters, over-the-top story, hallucinations, swords, and gore. Miike’s action continues to evolve in some of the most flawless techniques to shoot and slash three guys at the same time. And I’ll definitely continue watching the heads role as Miike continues to cut them off and the humour that he can pull from it.
Miike’s ventures into the genres that surround the action genre, where he made his name, tend to be hit or miss. But First Love is an amazing hit for Takashi Miike. Will it ever win awards? I doubt it. But the film is well worth 5 out of 5 stars and in terms of a great way to kill two hours, First Love is a cut about the rest.